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photoThe once free-flowing Chewuch Canal now runs in a large, buried pipe for much of its route. This year's piping will start at this terminus box. Photos by Sheela McLean

Ditch to Pipe
Chewuch Canal project continues

Some time after the flow of water in the Chewuch Canal stops October 1, the Chewuch Canal Company will start piping another 1.6 miles of what is now open ditch between Winthrop and Bear Creek, according to company president Roger Rowatt.

“We were hoping to starting October 1, but now it looks like October 15 to 20,” said Rowatt. He said the slow-down has been caused by “red tape paperwork hurdles” with the Washington State Department of Ecology.

No contractor has yet been chosen. The work is not yet out for bid, though that is expected very soon.

The Chewuch Canal Company irrigation route runs from near Boulder Creek on the Chewuch River, then into and out of Pearrygin Lake and on down to the North Cascades Smokejumper Base - about 12 miles.

The Chewuch Canal Company’s dam on Pearrygin Lake, built in 1920, raised the lake five feet. The Chewuch Canal feeds that top five feet, making the lake larger and more hospitable to fish and recreationists. The canal company is able to use the top five feet as a reservoir, pulling water from the raised lake when needed.

The section between Pearrygin Lake and the Heckendorn side of Winthrop, just above where Perry Street and Perry Avenue meet, has already been piped. So has the section between Bear Creek and the smokejumper base. Many trees--especially cottonwoods - in those areas have died, deprived of water that has run open annually since the ditch was built in 1910.

Putting open Methow Valley irrigation ditches into pipes has been controversial. Long strings of water-dependent ecosystems have threaded the valley, and all kinds of plant life wildlife grew used to water from the ditches. Over a century, people became accustomed to the green belts and pleasant waters.

On the flip side, piping keeps a lot more water in the river ecosystem, safe from leaking ditches and water-greedy trees and bushes during low water seasons. Also, piping the ditches means that water pressure builds as the irrigation water drops down the pipeline, which means irrigators don’t need as much electricity or as many pumps to run their crop-watering systems.

The Chewuch Canal Company plans to upgrade the infrastructure going into and out of Pearrygin Lake next spring, before the next irrigation season. That means a bigger feeder line going into the lake and new valves, according to Rowatt.

The Chewuch Canal Company has no current plans to pipe the irrigation waters in the canal up-river of Pearrygin Lake, Rowatt said.

Building the ditches was a big job and often not easy. Click images to enlarge.


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